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The European Commission for Democracy through Law - better known as the Venice Commission
© Consiglio d'Europa

Council of Europe: the Venice Commission published guidelines for ombudsman institutions

The Venice Commission published a set of guidelines to protect ombudsman institutions, following threats to these institutions in recent years. Ombudsman are important for democracy, their services are free, and are thus accessible to individuals who cannot afford to pursue their complaints through the courts. They can take action independently against maladministration and alleged violations of human rights and hence play a crucial role with regard to the governments and parliaments which must accept criticism. As an interface between the administration and the citizens they are at times the first or the last resort to set a human rights violation straight.

Ombudsman institutions now have a unique international reference text listing the legal principles essential to their establishment and functioning in a democratic society: The Principles for the Protection and Promotion of the Institution of the Ombudsman, or “The Venice Principles”.

Drawn partly from a diversity of existing models in the world, the 25 principles are the most comprehensive checklist ever compiled, ranging from election or dismissal and mandates of mediators, to financial and material guarantees that are necessary for the proper functioning and independence of ombudsman institutions.

They are meant to consolidate and empower ombudsmen institutions, which play a crucial role in strengthening democracy, the rule of law, good governance and the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The 25 Venice Principles are the result of broad consultations with the major international institutions active in the field. The Council of Europe’s Steering Committee for Human Rights played an active role in the process. Amongst the mediator associations and international partner organisations involved in the development of this text are the International Ombudsman Institute, a global association of ombudsmen from/of more than 100 countries, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Venice Commission hopes that its new reference text will guide and support the proper establishment and functioning of ombudsman institutions, the stability of democracies and the protection and promotion of fundamental rights.